Two nurses, two coasts. Even though there were thousands of miles between them, their stories, their fears and their struggles are not all that different. Because from coast to coast, healthcare workers have answered the call and gone to work, risking their own health in order to serve others.
Madison hadn’t thought about going into the medical field when she was young. But after getting a degree in psychology, she realized she liked caring for people in practical ways. So she became a Registered Nurse, and when COVID-19 hit New York City, she didn’t hesitate: she left her job and went to volunteer on the frontlines.
On April 13, she arrived in New York during one of the worst weeks of the pandemic. For the next two months, she worked 12-hour shifts five days a week. She was moved by the support the healthcare workers showed each other, even when burdened by the heavy grief of loss and the fear of carrying the disease to friends and family.
Facing death and human fragility like that – you can feel helpless. Working in healthcare comes with its own traumas anyways, but now there’s just so much more… It’s difficult for doctors to feel failure. It’s their job to have the answers and to have a solution and be able to fix something that’s broken. But with COVID there are so many unknowns.
On the opposite side of the country, Elena was also hard at work, fighting the virus even as she fought her own fears too.
The fear of the unknown was almost overwhelming, and even physically debilitating. Not knowing if the simple mask you were provided and the gown you were reusing was going to keep you safe from the virus. It is my job to help others, it is what I trained for… However, I never thought I would be risking my health and livelihood to care for the health of others. The playing field was leveled. Perhaps in two weeks I would be that patient, isolated from the rest of the world in a lonely hospital room, my only visitor being the staff assigned to my care.
For Madison and Elena, this research is timely, urgent, and personal – they are still processing their stressful experiences on the frontlines. Both nurses feel strongly about taking care of the mental health of our healthcare workers, acknowledging the heavy emotional toll this crisis has caused and working to face the mental impacts of COVID-19 head-on. Funding this critical research now will help us keep our gaze forward-focused, because a different future is possible.
*Not their real names